American Express, the US financial services firm, aims to grow the number of its retail partners across the Middle East to enable higher usage of its credit cards, a senior executive said.
"Growing card acceptance is at the top of Amex's priorities, not just regionally but globally," Graziela Martins, Amex's vice president of merchant business for the Middle East and North Africa, told The National in an interview.
“We have people on the ground across our key markets whose job is to ensure they are signing merchants every single day and moving that relationship far beyond just signing that agreement, to working closely with them on marketing opportunities and business insights, by leveraging the power of our data on consumer behaviour in different segments and locations,” she said.
Amex also works with merchant partners at different times of the year when they need support for one-off activities or seasonal campaigns to drive usage, such as supermarket promotions during Ramadan and Eid, Ms Martins said.
“The long and short of it is that acceptance is growing every day.”
She did not disclose the number of locations where Amex cards are accepted across the region, but said the company has witnessed double-digit growth in usage locations every year for the past three to five years, and expects the trend to continue.
In the UAE in particular – Amex’s most established regional market – growth in usage locations is rising in line with rapid urban expansion, with new shopping malls, residential districts, entertainment destinations and other communities, she said.
“The country itself is growing rapidly. We’re now seeing the emergence of new categories like entertainment, the new theme parks in Dubai and Abu Dhabi – and of course we are part of that journey because the card is accepted at these locations,” Ms Martins said.
The average Amex transaction value globally was US$141 in 2015, according to figures compiled by Statista. More recent data is not publicly available. Ms Martins said on average that Amex transactions tend to be higher in value than other payment models.
She forecasts “sustained high average value transaction in the region” in the years ahead, as well as “diversification of transactions” including the channels through which they are made – from bricks and mortar stores, e-commerce websites, mobile apps, kiosks and call centres.
“As a cardholder, you need to be able to use your card for everything from your morning cup of coffee to paying school fees,” she added.
Globally, Amex plans to decrease merchant fees by the greatest amount it has done in two decades, by around 5 to 6 basis points to 2.37 per cent on average, the Financial Times reported in March.
The US Supreme Court ruled on Monday that an Amex policy in the United States to block its partner retailers from offering discounts or other incentives to encourage customers to use another credit card with lower charges is legal. It follows claims from 12 US states and the Justice Department that the policy is anti-competitive.